Guest Commentary: Legislature: Don’t send citizens on digital scavenger hunts

Here is a page of legal ads from The Beacon's April 22, 2021, edition.

The internet continues to become more ubiquitous and the go-to source for many Floridians for news and information.

The Florida Legislature recognized this years ago when they mandated that newspapers not only print public notices in their newspapers, but also post them on their websites and aggregate all public notices in one single location online, at www.FloridaPublicNotices.com.

Yet, the fact remains that 6.8 million Floridians read printed newspapers each week, and removing public notice from newspapers or allowing notices to be printed in free newspapers (for a fee) would effectively remove the robust requirement for public notice that has made Florida’s rules the gold standard for decades.

While we certainly recognize that having public notice on the internet is a critical component, today’s combination of print and online dissemination offered now by Florida’s newspapers casts the widest possible net, informing more Floridians than an internet-only option could.

We also have to recognize the internet comes with its own set of challenges.

Today’s internet is still ripe for abuse. The fact is, there are innumerable — into the billions — of websites across the internet. There are even hundreds of different search engines. And each of these have their own algorithms, unknown to us.

The internet is just not transparent; it’s not reliable; it’s unregulated and it’s inconsistent.

If we move public notices to today’s internet-only with all of its problems, this patchwork will only harm businesses across the state, as well as harming all Floridians who would lose access to the information contained in public notices.

And, allowing for free newspapers still creates a patchwork of different regulation, replacing today’s requirements and negatively impacting access to critical information. Besides, the fact is free newspapers simply don’t have the ability to compete the way community newspapers do, and your local free shopper just doesn’t have the reach to communicate this critical information to businesses and Floridians.

We’re asking the Florida Legislature to guard the best interest of constituents. Keep public notice in a format that Floridians can choose how to consume it — whether in their printed community newspaper, on that newspaper’s website, or at www.FloridaPublicNotices.com — rather than the government dictating how public notices are found and read.

Don’t send Floridians to the depths of the internet black hole to play a game of digital scavenger hunt. We urge members of the Florida Legislature to vote no on House Bill 35 and Senate Bill 402.

— Bevis is senior vice president of state and federal affairs for Associated Industries of Florida. His comments were shortened slightly for space.